400 Years Since Pilgrim Dorothy Bradford Drowned

Dorothy Bradford (maiden name May) was the daughter of Henry and Katherine May and she was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England about 1597. Dorothy moved to an English colony in Amsterdam around 1608 with her non-conformist father, who was a leading church elder in the Henry Ainsworth church congregation in the city.

Five years later, on December 10, 1613, the 16-year-old Dorothy married William Bradford, then 23, then to take up residence in Leiden, Holland. The couple had a child, John, who was probably born in 1617, though he was left behind with friends when Dorothy and William sailed for North America on the ‘The Mayflower’ in 1620; presumably with the intention of sending for him when Plymouth Colony was built and more suitable for a young child.

The Mayflower anchored off Provincetown Harbour on November 11, 1620, and the Pilgrims sent out several men, including William Bradford, to explore the region to seek out the best place to build their Colony. Less than a month later, about December 7, 1620, while her husband was ashore exploring for a suitable location to build the new colony, Dorothy accidentally drowned in the freezing waters of the Provincetown Harbour after falling from the ship ‘The Mayflower.’

William Bradford did remarry to a widow, Alice (Carpenter) Southworth, on August 14, 1623. They had three children: William, Mercy and Joseph. William Sr. served for many years as the Governor of the Plymouth Colony and wrote a history of the Plymouth Colony beginning in 1630. He continued writing through 1651. It is titled “Of Plymouth Plantation” and William died May 9, 1657 in Plymouth. His second wife died in March 1670.

The only child of Dorothy and William Bradford, John Bradford, later came to the colony about 1640, reunited with his father but never to know his mother, Dorothy. John Bradford married Martha Bourne Tracy about 1649 in Plymouth, living in Duxbury where he was a deputy of the General Court and a Lieutenant, then to Norwich, Connecticut. John died Sept. 21, 1676 and had no children. Martha Bradford remarried in February 1680 to Lt. Thomas Tracy. He died in November 1685 and Martha Bourne Bradford Tracy died 1689.

So this is the tragic story of Dorothy May Bradford, who left her son behind, traveled with her husband across the Atlantic Ocean and waited on the ship ‘The Mayflower’ for her husband William to return to the ship. While walking on the ship’s deck Dorothy fell overboard and drowned, 400 years ago. Three others of the Mayflower passengers had died from other reasons early on, but Dorothy’s death was by accident, her never stepping on New World soil. Her son never had children, so there were no descendants of Dorothy May Bradford. Only descendants were the children William Bradford had with his second wife and future grandchildren.

Photo: Mayflower ship

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Help to Verify Mayflower Descendants

Joining the Mayflower Society

An Ancestor and a Ship

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